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What is the central idea in “To Build a Fire”?
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The central idea is arguably man’s arrogance in his dealings with nature. The man in the story thinks that, because he’s a member of the most intelligent species on earth, he somehow has the right to impose himself on the natural world. He should treat his natural environment with a…
The central idea is arguably man’s arrogance in his dealings with nature. The man in the story thinks that, because he’s a member of the most intelligent species on earth, he somehow has the right to impose himself on the natural world. He should treat his natural environment with a healthy respect, especially an environment as brutally harsh and unforgiving as this. But he doesn’t; he thinks he knows better. Though all the danger signs are there for everyone to see, the man stubbornly ignores what’s right in front of him and heads out into the frozen wilderness, woefully unprepared for the ravages of winter.
His dog knows better. But then, unlike his master, he doesn’t try to fight nature; he lives according to it. He senses the danger of heading out in such inclement weather conditions. It comes as no surprise that the husky doesn’t bond with his foolish human companion; something tells him that there’s just no point in getting too attached. Even a dog, a supposedly dumb animal, has an innate respect for nature. But the man of the story has lost touch with the much closer, deeper connection to the natural world that his ancestors once enjoyed. Alienated from the earth beneath his feet, he comes to see it as nothing more than an object to be used and exploited for his own purposes. But in his arrogance, he fails to realize that human beings are not the only creatures living on this earth, and that if you don’t take a leaf from the animals’ book and adapt yourself to nature and its rhythms, then it’s more than likely that you’ll one day come to grief.
The central theme is most likely the conflict between man and nature along with a nice side theme of the dangers of ignorance. But, in this case, it is the man’s ignorance and inability to respect the power of nature that leads to his downfall. The fact that the man has repeated warnings both from nature itself represented by the weather and the dog and from other humans aand ignores them is important, going along with many of Jack London’s stories in emphasizing the importance of respecting nature and taking the right precautions.
A secondary theme has to do with the man being forced to come to terms with his own death, in this case at the hands of nature. He fights it for a while, but in the end must accept it and does.
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